Jim slowed at first, then thinking it was the same bridge, gave it the gas. Something was not right, though, so I yelled out "STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP". Jim thought I was nuts, but he did stop about 20 yards from the bridge and asked me what the devil I was yelling to stop for. I explained that we made a right, then another right, which meant that we were traveling in the opposite directly, so it could not be the same bridge. Jim pulled up to the bridge and it was obvious that, had he not stopped, he would have taken the top off the truck.
I couldn't help but wonder, if people actually did hit bridges. I had never really thought about it before. In fact, it did not seem to be real to me. My experience of course was eye opening and it was very obvious that bridges do get hit by drivers. But how many? How many drivers do actually hit bridges and what are the reasons. Tired? Careless? Drunk? Distracted? Jim was none of these, yet had I not yelled in time, he would have hit that bridge.
Being well educated, I realize that, statistically, people are 3 sigma. We all make mistakes. On average, 45,000 mistakes for every 1 million chances to make those mistakes. That means, some drivers are definitely going to hit some bridges. The question of course, is still, how many and, what are the causes?
I recently read an article that included a letter from New York state Senator Charles Ellis "Chuck" Schumer to U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. Representative Schumer stated several eye opening facts on bridge strikes in New York. Two in particular stood out. The first was that, according to a recent NYSDOT study, about 200 bridge accidents have occurred in New York State alone, every year, since 2005. That adds to approximately 1,600 bridge strikes, just in New York. The second was that 80% of these were attributed to the reliance on basic GPS system. Many were on roads that were very clearly marked as off-limits to Commercial Trucks.
Naturally I wanted to know what the stats were for the entire US, but when I looked, the data was not readily available. I sent a letter to the DOT requesting the information and should they respond, I will do a follow up article. In the meantime I think we can take a lesson from Jim and perhaps prevent our own bridge strike.
Jim almost hit that bridge because of 2 reasons. The first was that Jim relied on faulty data. The second was that Jim failed to manage risk. These 2 reasons together can cause us all a significant amount of problems. Jim relied on data that was wrong. i.e. He thought it was the same bridge that he had previously gone under. This can happen and will happen to all of us at one time or another. Faulty data is part of the human experience. It is something that we must not only live with, but we must find a way to keep it from causing us serious problems. And that is where managing risk comes in.
Had Jim practiced Risk management, he would have taken it slow regardless of the data. After all, what harm could there possibly be by driving slowly under the bridge, or stopping up next to it, to assess the height? It basically would be a win/no loss. By picking up speed, it turns a win/no loss into a possible win/loss situation. Moving slowly, he can either get under the bridge safely (win), or stop before any damage occurs from hitting it (no loss). Moving fast, he can either get under the bridge safely (win), or hit it causing damage (loss).
There is something freeing about "getting away with something". It gives us a sense of invulnerability and makes us feel good when we "toss caution to the wind". But as professional drivers, we cannot afford to let our guard down. We must learn to enjoy the feeling without actually taking the risk. The same holds true for using a GPS. Those of us who will allow that "Feeling of Freedom" to guide our actions will almost certainly end up in trouble sooner or later. Those who use the GPS as a helpful tool, yet maintain full responsibility will surely get into far les trouble. But isn't that the way, all of life is?
By Frank J. Oddo